After surprise loss in election, British PM May refuses to resign
British Prime Minister Teresa May called for snap elections six weeks ago hoping to increase her Conservative majority in parliament to give her some leeway in implementing her Brexit plan.
The gamble backfired yesterday as British voters went to the polls and expressed dissatisfaction with her leadership, giving the Labor Party a big win.
The Conservatives still hold a plurality of seats in parliament – 318 with 652 needed for a majority. But the Tories lost their majority, previously holding 331 seats, while Labor gained 30 seats and ended up with 262.
May has already struck a deal with the right-wing Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to add their 10 seats to her fragile majority, but going forward, most observers believe that May will have to step down soon.
Perhaps the biggest loser of the night was the Scottish Independence Party – a reliable Labor ally – who lost 21 of its 56 seats. A second vote for Independence from Great Britain has now been delayed, and it's difficult to see when it might take place. Scots voted to remain a part of Great Britain by 55-45 in 2014.
The Liberal Democrats, who have been coalition partners with both Conservatives and Labor in the past, gained five seats and ended up with 13. They have refused entreaties from Jeremy Corbyn, Labor's leader, to join in a coalition against the Conservatives and have indicated that they will not join the Conservatives, either. Their former leader, Nick Clegg, actually lost his seat.
Finally, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) lost its only seat in Parliament and was a non-factor across the board. The party whose popularity in 2016 forced a vote on Great Britain's continued participation in the European Union, which resulted in a British exit, has fallen considerably since its charismatic leader, Nigel Farage, resigned his position.
Despite the fall of UKIP, the populist wave that has swept the Western world continued. Labor's gains could be seen as a rejection of the status quo, while their failure to gain a majority shows that establishment liberals are in as bad odor as conservatives. UKIP's successor to Farage, Paul Nutall, resigned following his party's tepid performance at the polls; with the Tories adopting many of UKIP's positions, the party's program has basically gone mainstream.
Fox News offers an analysis of some of the reasons May's gamble backfired:
Brexit failed to emerge as a major issue in the campaign, as both the Conservatives and Labour said they would respect voters' wishes and go through with the divorce.
Then, attacks that killed 30 people in Manchester and London twice brought the campaign to a halt, sent a wave of anxiety through Britain and forced May to defend the government's record on fighting terrorism. Corbyn accused the Conservatives of undermining Britain's security by cutting the number of police on the streets.
Eight people were killed near London Bridge on Saturday when three men drove a van into pedestrians and then stabbed revelers in an area filled with bars and restaurants. Two weeks earlier, a suicide bomber killed 22 people as they were leaving a concert in Manchester. Before the election, five people died during a vehicle and knife attack near Parliament on March 22.
Rachel Sheard, who cast her vote near the site of the London Bridge attack, said the election hadn't gone as expected – and that it certainly wasn't about Brexit.
"I don't think that's in the hearts and minds of Londoners at the minute, (not) nearly as much as security is," said Sheard, 22. "It was very scary on Saturday."
While security was on many voters' minds, it was far from the only issue.
"It's important, but it's only one issue amongst several," said 68-year-old Mike Peacroft. "I wouldn't necessarily say it's at the top. Obviously at my end of the (age) spectrum I'm more interested in things like pensions and so forth, NHS health care – plus schooling, those are really my main concerns."
Both sides have not only promised to continue with Brexit talks, but also massively fund the failing NHS national health care program with Conservatives proposing a smaller increase.
As for Brexit, it may not have been a big issue, but for Conservatives, there is a growing gap between those who support May's idea of a "hard" Brexit – a near total break with the economies of Europe – and those who desire a "soft" Brexit, which would take into consideration some of the needs of the E.U. One of May's reasons for the snap election was to gain Conservative seats and increase her influence with the party so that whatever Brexit plan she settles on would gain Conservative approval.
May will not resign, but her days are numbered. The Conservatives have a fairly short bench, and replacing her will not necessarily improve their prospects. One obvious name is former London mayor, now foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who refused to challenge for the leadership last year and which looks now like a pretty good call. Significantly, he has yet to endorse May for P.M.
Great Britain is entering a period of uncertainty domestically. The Brexit issue will heat up as the practical consequences of getting out of the E.U. hit home with British voters. But there is no indication that either party wants to challenge the country's exit from the E.U., and whether it's A hard or soft exit, Great Britain will once again chart its own course in its relations with the European continent.